Vatican's Sistine Chapel hosts first live online concert

British composer Harry Christophers conducts the sir James MacMillian’s Stabat Mater by British choir, in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, on April 22, 2018.
British composer Harry Christophers conducts the sir James MacMillian’s Stabat Mater by British choir, in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, on April 22, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

ROME (AFP) - The Vatican's Sistine Chapel opened up to the digital age on Sunday with the first live concert streamed over the Internet from the famous sacred space.

It was a performance of Scottish composer James MacMillan's acclaimed version of the Stabat Mater.

A British choir group The Sixteen and chamber orchestra ensemble Britten Sinfonia took to the stage against the backdrop of Michelangelo's masterpiece of The Last Judgement.

The Stabat Mater is a 13th century poem most likely written by Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306), but sometimes ascribed to Pope Innocent III, which portrays the Virgin Mary's suffering during Jesus Christ's death by crucifixion.

MacMillan, 58, who has composed many pieces of sacred music, was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation, which has been working since 2001 to support young artistic talent and develop the link between art and faith.

Some 300 people filled the Sistine Chapel for the concert while live video of the performance was streamed over the website of Classic FM.

As the British choir began to sing, the audience there and online was reminded that the acoustics as much as the frescoes have made the chapel world-famous over the centuries.

The Sistine Chapel attracts some six million visitors each year as part of the Vatican Museum but it is also "a musical centre where composers have written for the liturgy for hundreds of years... and to have my music played here is a very special privilege", said MacMillan.